Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Week 14

Here is a summary of my thoughts on the reading for Week 14, the introduction of The Cognition of Basic Musical Structures.

Temperley makes the statement that music students and musically inclined people know and recognize music structure such as tone, scales, and key. They are generally agreed upon and much research has been done legitimizing each of them. Temperley wants to explore the cognition of these musical structures, meaning he wants to know how the human brain processes and allocates this musical information.

Music must be analyzed as it goes, as it swells and changes throughout and Temperley's research model reflects that. It is explained that music cognition not only requires theories and disciplines from psychology and musicology, but linguistics as well. Part of this involves studying the syntax and notation of music. Temperley's study will determine how people read, determine, and interpret musical input such as tone and key into cognitive functions in their brain. This will partially be studied by trying to differentiate between "experienced" listeners, those who are familiar with music theory, and inexperienced listeners.

It seems that Temperley is trying to nail down how different people hear the same piece of music and how their experience and cognition affects that. Interestingly, Temperley reminds us that one can sing and remember a melody if he or she hears it enough, so perhaps we innately have the ability to hear pitches and pitch changes at the least.

Temperly also explains the difficulty in studying certain aspects of music. Dynamics, for example, can be quantified in numbers and computers, but timbre is a different element altogether. The "richness" of a sound can't exactly be measured, so Temperley acknowledges this weakness. He also explains the necessity of studying one's reactions and cognition throughout a musical piece, following the "route" they take by listening to it. By taking only one part of one's understanding of a musical piece, one can only deduce a small part of the listener's reaction.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Week 13

This is a summary of my thoughts on various articles assigned during Week 13.

Counting Down to Number One by Hakanen

This article discusses the uses of music charts in the music industry. Heatseekers charts, for example, map out new artists who are picking up steam and selling a lot of records. The other charts, Hakanen argues, are a look into the music industry and its consumers. The chart itself defines what is popular in the music business. Some researchers find that music has changed society more than any other, with its uses anywhere from being played and controlled by royalty to being played and controlled by ClearChannel. Before the advent of copywright laws, there was little incentive for musicians to write their own songs, as they made more playing well known folk songs. With the popularity of radio and the phonograph, songs began to be ranked against each other, reducing the importance of publisher loyalties. This began a need for performers to get 'pay for play,' meaning receiving royalties if their songs were popular and played on the radio.

Having charts changed consumers, not only in how they perceived the popularity of an artist, but it began making individuals identify with one particular genre of music. Hakanen argues that the charts are separated into different genres to give more power to more types of music. Instead of all music being ranked against each other, this genre separation shows the consumer more popular options. Charts unfortunately reduce a complex art form into a consumable chart used for capitalistic gain.

Human-Centered Musical Studies by Stefani

Stefani proposes Music Human Rights, a code to which music and musical culture must conform. It seems to be a philanthropic idea that embodies various ideals to come together and create an inclusive and unique musicology. This musicology would call upon all individuals, those who call themselves musicians and non-musicians, to come together and produce and art that can truly be called "human." If this is the correct interpretation, I call it commendable but heady, idealistic, and farfetched. That is, unless this is a satirical article.

Analysing Popular Music by Tagg

Tagg begins the article by saying the academic study of popular music is often mocked and not taken seriously. Many academics incorrectly assume their society is exclusive and does not have room for new fields of study. Tagg argues the importance of popular music by pointing out the hundreds of new technologies that music produces and inspires. Musicology is rooted in sociological studies, and like the social science, it helps understand the behaviors and tendencies of groups of people. Tagg does point out inconsistencies and challenges in the study of popular music, such as attributing human behavior to it when there could be many other factors in play. Tagg breaks down each element of music that must be taken into account when studying it, anywhere from timbre to instrument to time period of the piece. One of the ways Tagg suggests testing theories and the moods music convey is to take two pieces with similarities and change certain aspects of them such as the key and the duration of certain notes. This way, the isolated variable can be tested. Through these studies, Tagg has come up with a strong argument for music being able to convey a certain message or feeling to the listener. He concludes by saying his method of research is a bit too overwhelming to properly teach, but he says it remains a viable method of analyzing music from a social science perspective.

Music, History, Democracy by Oliver

This article chronicles a music conference in 1989 that interestingly had to separate culturally due to scheduling conflicts and room conflicts. Despite fascinating papers on popular Nigerian music and Hungarian opera, the conference was dubbed overambitious and underprepared. Perhaps this could be one of the examples showing that the study of music has not been taken seriously and that there is still much to be done for the study to gain respect in the academic community.

Music for Human Rights website

It seems this website has changed, or at least its address has. They are currently celebrating John Lennon's 70th birthday and his contributions to the world via a few albums. Interestingly, Ozzy Osbourne has recorded "How?" by John Lennon in his honor.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Week 12

This is a summary of my thoughts on Week 12's readings from Music is Your Business and on Music Markup Language.

There are four fronts of the music industry that lead to success of an artist. The first front is Artist and Product Development. This involves establishing who you are as an artist and what your image is. The product development has to do with selling music, such as an artist's website or live show sales. The second front is promotion, which means getting airplay. The third front is publicity which entails making press packs and doing research into opportunities. The fourth front is performance, which involves finding venues and touring. The authors argue that the four fronts are interrelated and can be enhanced by the Internet.

Next, the authors discuss how much the industry has changed in thirty or forty years. There are more new music releases than ever, the CD sales industry is confusing and quite possibly floundering, and the advent of the internet has made it easier than ever to distribute music, but very difficult to get noticed. The authors argue that it is easier to get on the radio now with Internet radio and stations becoming increasingly supportive of independent artists. Clear Channel's dominance of the music industry has affected both radio play and live performances, reducing the number of opportunities available to independent artists. Establishing one's career by one's self remains the way to get signed by a label. This makes sense to me, if a label representative sees that an artist is already successful, signing them would be a small risk and that artist could in theory only get bigger.

Music Markup Language

MML is a music language that helps turn MIDI into a more human-friendly language. Much like HTML, if used properly, MML can be translated into text, sheet music, and a bevy of other formats. It seems that this would help preserve music that is not traditionally notated, and I can't do anything but praise their efforts for doing so.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Week 11

This is a summary of my thoughts on Sound Tracks Chapters 1 and 11.

Sound Tracks seeks to discover and study music geographically, meaning that the authors will take an academic look at music through culture, music scenes, artist distribution, and other aspects. Connell and Gibson write that music is largely ignored in academic circles because it is nebulous. Looking back to Sacks' writing, it certainly does seem that music is one art form that is most mysterious both scientifically and philosophically. Whereas film for example has been picked apart and studied extensively, music remains an underappreciated art form in the academic world.

Part of the reason, the authors argue, is that music is an abstract and always changing entity. It is difficult to pin down and truly study because it is so integrated into our lives, whether playing over the loudspeakers in a store or playing in the background of a television show. Another part of the problem in the academic of study of music, experts say is that we as a society are quick to reveal our own musical tastes even in a way that could be described as snobbish. Perhaps since music is such a personal and special experience, it is more difficult for experts to be unbiased in their criticisms and observations of music.

The authors describe how music can be both fixed and fluid. Fixed music is through headphones, or through a speaker. Fluidity is more complex, the authors describe it as the soundwaves that music makes or the cash flow from a successful musician or the "buzz" surrounding a new artist that spreads like wildfire. The authors also discuss physical fluidity of music through actual geography, discussing the "hearths" of music, such as the southern United States and jazz. Interestingly, the authors posit that socioeconomic factors determine what type of musical 'scene' a culture might have.

Next, the authors discuss the digitization of music. Corporate conglomerations control much of the music industry and this affects the globalization of music and the way it is sold. Since these conglomerates are "infotainment" industries who control many different forms of media and products, it is argued that they do not necessarily know what is best for the music industry and that they control what consumers hear. The authors cite manufactured artists like the Backstreet Boys suggesting that there is a standardization of the industry and copious amounts of marketing to the right consumer. However, the advent of mp3s and the internet has allowed some artists to circumvent the harsh controlling ways of the conglomerates.

The digitization of recording and of mp3s started allowing artists without corporate money to make professional sounding music in their own homes or for a much less expensive investment. This affects the geography of music, this cuts down on music epicenters and spreads the source or "hearth" of music much further around. Mp3s also allow artists to distribute their music all over the world, which further decentralizes music hubs. Interstingly, house music and techno is hardly centralized at all, partially due to its lack of lyrics. Artists from all over the world including Germany, Japan, and Brazil all contribute to this type of music. This discontinued reliance on major labels and the increase of piracy of music has perhaps started a new age in music in which independence and DIY methods are the norm.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Week 10

This is a summary of my thoughts for Chapters 19 and 20 in Steve Gordon's The Future of the Music Business and the visual complexity website.

The Future of the Music Business

Nearing the end of the book, Gordon writes a chapter on peer to peer music websites that allow unlimited free music trading such as the old Napster, Kazaa, and Grokster. Gordon interestingly chronicles the movement of the industry from singles to albums and back to singles again with the advent of iTunes. In an interview with Wayne Rosso, he describes the downfall of Napster partially being that a central part of the system kept a log of all the files and the court ruled that Fanning and company could have prevented the music that was copyrighted from being there. Interestingly, it seems that internet speed has moved the peer to peer and music downloading zeitgeist further now that downloading music takes seconds rather than minutes or hours. I seem to recall downloading music on Napster back when it was popular and waiting an entire day for everything to download. Also, Rosso says that Apple does not make its money from iTunes, they make their money by selling compatible iPods. I find this an interesting business model and explains why other similar services have failed. Even Microsoft set up the Zune Marketplace for their portable music device, but it seems unpopular as well. Rosso makes an interesting point that people do need to pay money for music, but the price that the record companies set may not necessarily be right. Perhaps this is why the 'name your price' model has worked for artists like Radiohead.

Next, Steve Gordon explores music in virtual worlds with Mike Lawson. Lawson performs music on Second Life, a virtual world in which musicians can perform for virtual audiences with a microphone and a bit of planning. Lawson and a few friends play in a virtual blues club and make money from donations from other Second Lifers. Lawson says the appeal is being able to play at home in his own studio and have a much wider audience to play to regardless. There is also the ability to stream one's music outside of the virtual world, so interested listeners do not necessarily have to be in Second Life. Interestingly, there are no other virtual worlds or platforms that allow for virtual musicianship, but I would not be surprised if there is one in the making.

Visual Complexity

I tried the Graph Theory website, which allows users to use multiple solo violin samples and link them to each other to create a composition. The selections made affect the future performances of the piece. I think this is a very cool idea, although there are some inherent problems with it. I assume it's all written in the same key so each piece can fit together, but without deciding what goes where, notes that sound good together and resolution notes may not occur. Then again, maybe the creators of the website are hoping users choose resolution notes and samples that sound cohesive together.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Week 9

This is a summary of my thoughts on Week 9's readings, which includes Chapters 14, 15, and 16 in Gordon's The Future of the Music Business and various website reviews.

The Future of the Music Business

Gordon interviews John Buckman, the owner of Magnatune, a record company that bills itself as "not evil." They do not use arbitrary DRM rules and seem to give their artists a lot of freedom. The contracts with artists are nonexclusive, meaning in theory that the artists could pick up another label or independently sell their merchandise and music. The website allows users to listen to an entire mp3 stream of an album. John Buckman the owner, then hopes that people are interested to get a high quality physical copy with which to listen to the album elsewhere. Buckman also splits the profits with artists 50/50, which judging from other record contracts Gordon has chronicled, is unheard of. I think it's interesting that Apple and iTunes currently dominates the online music market and aren't terribly friendly to indie labels. Buckman was lucky enough to garner enough interest in his website that Apple became interested in helping him. It seems like quite a hurdle.

Gordon's next subject, Creative Commons, is a term used to describe a community in which musicians can build upon and use each other's music without fear of financial difficulties and lawsuits. Thomas Goetz from Wired magazine released an issue with a CD full of Creative Commons-licensed music, meaning subscribers could freely take that music and improve upon it, remix it, sample it, or any other variety of changes without recourse from the artists or labels. There are "Some Rights Reserved," meaning Creative Commons does not give complete control over a track. For example, one song might allow sampling by anyone while another may only allow noncommercial use. Goetz makes the argument that all musicians are thieves, always being inspired by other artists. This is only a continuation of using other musicians as muses and makes it much easier to sample and enjoy the music of others.

Gordon speaks next with Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby. CDBaby is an online music retailer. Sivers got his start by building the website to sell his own music online, with credit card capabilities and a "shopping cart" feature. Sivers also runs Hostbaby, a hosting site in which a band can have their own .com domain name for a reasonable price. CDBaby's connection with iTunes is much like Magnatune's, in which Apple came to them. It seems that this is the only way to compete with iTunes is to essentially buddy up with them on their own terms. Many companies come to CDBaby asking to be able to distribute their catalog and some want to "cherry pick," or choose a certain number of the best artists. CDBaby does not allow this and only sells on an all or nothing approach.

Global Music Archive

I found this to be a particularly user-friendly and helpful archive. There are very specific collections included in this archive, such as a Ugandan popular music cassette collection and East African music collections. According to the website, they will also be including an Indigenous Mexican music archive. My browser unfortunately did not recognize the player the website used to listen to the music. Also, I assume East African music is obscure and difficult to search for, so they should have designed an archive that highlights the collection rather than giving users a search bar.

International Alliance for Women in Music

This website is a coalition to raise awareness of women's contributions to music. I found it insightful and interesting that they have a link to names to request to radio shows. Although they say they request both contemporary and classical musicians, most seem to be classical. They also hold an annual concert, which seems like a good way to raise awareness.

Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz

This website allows you to search for photographs, but also offers a few links with which to browse: by venue, by artist, or by subject. I browsed by Carnegie Hall and found a picture of Charlie Parker playing a gig. It seems to be a small collection, but a cool little piece of history that the Library of Congress has successfully digitized.

Trouser Press

This is a British alternative rock magazine archive. In the reviews alone, there is enough material to get lost for days. I read a lengthy and cohesive chronicle of the Smashing Pumpkins' career and discography, the writers not-so-cheekily calling Billy Corgan a megalomaniac. Great website, lots of reviews, easily found search bar.

Voices from the Dust Bowl

Another highly specific music collection, archivists from the Library of Congress took the time to convert almost 18 hours of Dust Bowl farmers in 1940 and 1941 singing folk-story type songs. In most, there is no musical backing, just country-like flat voices of farmers singing tales or telling stories. The website is not terribly easy to navigate, but it is an impressive collection.

Virtual Instrument Museum

This is a searchable archive of most of the instruments known to man. The website allows the user to search by region, instrument type, and a variety of other options. For most instruments, the user can listen to an audio sample to hear what the instrument is like. I listened to an instrument from Southeast Asia called a gender that is made of wood and sounds much like a vibraphone.

The Canadian Encyclopedia of Music

This is another browse-friendly music encyclopedia. I read up on Disaster Music, music inspired by various disasters. In Canada, a fire in 1825 and a few mining explosions produced mostly folk songs telling the story of the disaster and remembering those who passed. The archive is surprisingly updated to 2000, with a Canadian pop article referencing Avril Lavigne.

The ARChive of Contemporary Music

This website has a delightfully cheeky outlook, saying their archive of 1950s to present music will be important when the "spacemen" take over. They have a list of every music genre one can think of (or can't) from aboio to zoukous. Website design-wise, it is frustrating because the entire website seems to be contained in a small square in the middle of the computer screen. There also doesn't seem to be a whole lot of content here.

Black Grooves

This is a blog that has many resources and links to African American music. Unlike a few of the other sites, this one seems to truly embrace all genres of music involved in their niche. The introductory post mentions a punk rock band called Death and Aretha Franklin in the same sentence. The entries are all bite-sized reviews, often with Youtube links to hear the music that is being reviewed. The scope may be too large for the authors of the site to keep up with, but the content that is here is quality.

Chicago Jazz Archive

This Chicago Library-run archive has documents, pictures, and samples of jazz from the Chicago area. The front page has many links, depending on the user's needs from research links to jazz humor links. There are also links to maps of famous Chicago jazz clubs over the years, showing what is still there and what was once there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Week 8

This is a summary of my thoughts for the readings assigned during Week 8, including Chapters 11-13 of Steve Gordon's The Future of the Music Business and a few websites.

The Future of the Music Business

Chapter 11 starts with Gordon singing the praises of utilizing websites as a musical artist. Having been a musician in the age of Myspace and Facebook, I certainly agree with him. He compares a music website to an online "press kit," or media portfolio of sorts that contains a demo, a bio, pictures, and other positive press of a musical artist. I completely agree, in my anecdotal experience, booking agents are contented visiting my band's Facebook and Myspace page instead of requiring that I send them a full-on press kit. Similarly, e-mail lists and tour dates help fans get in touch and know when and where a band is playing. For most bands I listen to, I check their Myspace page or official website to see when they are coming through Denver. Having an online store in which to sell merchandise such as CDs, t-shirts, and stickers is also crucial. Most bands I know use bigcartel.com, a free-to-use and customizable vending website. Gordon also provides a few lessons regarding e-mail lists that I've learned, such as adding incentive to sign up in the first place and not sending out too many e-mails so it doesn't feel like subscribers are getting spammed. The interview at the end of the chapter has Gordon speaking with a promotions consultant about providing music online, it got me thinking about a recent purchase of mine. I purchased two albums by artists on Paper + Plastick Records, a small record label with poor distribution, meaning finding a physical copy of a CD was nearly impossible. Their website allows users to purchase the entire physical CD for around $8 or $9 and comes with a free instant download. This way, I get the physical CD but also the instant satisfaction of the mp3s on my computer so I can put them on my mp3 player. Genius.

In the next chapter, Steve Gordon interviews Will Calhoun of Living Colour. Calhoun says that Myspace and e-commerce (selling music online) are becoming foundations of being a musician and that the former helps him connect with fans all across the world. He also weighs the pros and cons of being on an independent label versus a major label. A major makes more people care about your music and invests in it, but takes a large percentage of profits. Independently, it is more difficult to find fans and garner interest, but the profit margin is much more heavily in the artist's favor. Calhoun and another jazz musician Dave Samuels touch on the existence of YouTube a bit. Both seem to accept its existence as an inevitability but think it can be a promotional tool as well.

In the next chapter, Gordon continues his discussion of online music promotion and vending with The Orchard, an online independent music distributor. The owner Greg Scholl talks about how promotion online can be free, as opposed to putting a poster up in a major record store, which often costs a label money. Another site he's involved in, eMusic, is a subscription site. He explains that subscription sites don't mean that if the user stops paying monthly that they will lost all the songs they paid for, instead they just stop using the service. Once a user purchases a song, he or she owns it. This seems to be quite a logistical problem for music subscription services, differentiating and describing how the process works. Gordon also points out other tools on the Internet that help artists promote themselves such as blogs and podcasting. A friend of mine visits a website called One Track Mind, a blog that offers a free mp3 every day by a different artist to discover. Labor of love-type blogs like these help users discover new music and ways to support bands that would have been unheard otherwise. Satellite radio is also becoming a form of media to watch, with Sirius and XM merging and having freedom to play unsigned artists and major players like Howard Stern. It's also a great tool for up and coming artists, there's an unsigned artists station that many A & R guys from the music industry listen to.

Wikipedia - Improvisation

I found this entry interesting, especially the focus on taking in one's environment and feelings as one improvises. As a musician who has not improvised before, this was interesting to hear. I also thought it was cool that some composers were bold enough to fully improvise a full symphony with nothing tying it together but for a recurring melody.

Live Plasma

The website wasn't working for me. Hopefully I can come back and update this entry.


I like the ideas implemented on this website, but I'd rather seem them used on a free-to-use and indie-artist friendly website like Last.fm. I also wish that the site would show the user what mood a particular song is considered. I listened to The Beatles' "Yesterday" and felt that it was "calm" and "dark" but I couldn't find a way to prove myself right or wrong. Also to its credit, there are a fair number of options available to non-paying users.